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Soviet-China peace request

I was going to begin by saying 'Will Rogers once said', and I realised, just in time, it's as if one of my schoolmasters had said to me, 'Never forget the wise words of Campbell-Bannerman!' Whoever he is.

Will Rogers was a native of Oklahoma when it was not known either as a musical comedy or as one of the United States – it was a territory commonly known as Indian territory and Will Rogers was proud of more than a drop or two of Indian blood. I guess in England you have to say 'Red' Indian blood with a capital R. Anyway, he herded cattle both on the range and on boats and in South Africa, came back to America and in no time was on the boards and eventually in the Ziegfeld Follies and then at a Royal Command Performance.

He became known as the cowboy philosopher and his act consisted of spinning a rope and thinking aloud, slowly, on the state of American and world politics. He was a favourite in America and as huge a success in England as Mark Twain. A thin, raddled face, ropey hair and a nose like a carrot.

I thought of him this week after the military coup in Guatemala and the threat of other uprisings in Nicaragua and Honduras. He once said, 'In the United States, every boy has a right to be president. In Central America, every boy has to be president.' He also had a word about the British by-election – I mean by hindsight from his grave – on third parties that arrive to whisk a new broom through two party politics, he said, 'In the United States, third parties sweep clean the middle of the room and go out the back door leaving the old parties more elbow room to fight each other.'

Well, this week the big, bad news came out of China via Washington – a plea from President Brezhnev to put an end to two decades of hostility between Russia and China. This could be so ominous a note that I don't dare to rush in where dragons fear to tread. I think we'd better wait a week or two and see how Peking and Washington and, for that matter, Western Europe react.

In the meantime, there's rousing, fascinating news out of Baltimore, Maryland. It brings up the well-worn question, 'What is a genius?'. Of all the attempts to define genius, as distinct from extraordinary talent, there are two which seem to me to leave the question unanswered. Whoever said that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains had never, I suspect, seen a patient bricklayer plying his trade with amazing incompetence or a woman who is less than deft taking infinite pains and a determined ten minutes trying and failing to thread a needle.

The other definition comes up regularly after some school or other educational institution has run a series of intelligence quotient tests and comes up with the announcement that some bright boy of ten has an IQ so impressive that they always say he is 'close to the genius level'. Now I may be soured by long experience of watching prodigies turning into quite ordinary people like you and me, but I've always thought that the IQ examiners have a block in, of all places, the brain. They miss the one crucial point, which is intelligence at what? Intelligence may be very lively in one lobe of the brain and very dead in another.

This may be poor neurology but is observable common sense. I think of a famous actor whose conversation on anything non-theatrical is heavy with clichés that drop like cow flops but show him a page of Shakespeare and he instantly can inflect every subtlety of meaning in a speech whose grammar even is so sophisticated that 98 per cent of the audience won't get a quarter of it.

Bankers are an interesting case. The particular lobe that sends out the signals 'money' or in international bankers, the 'trace', the 'movements' of money, these signals travel with the speed of light, but in everything else, these men can be dumb-bells.

So I... I doubt there's any such thing as general intelligence of the highest order, but now comes news of a girl – I call her a girl without condescension or offhand male chauvinism because my old paper used to have a rule for its writers, 'Never refer to a female over 19 as a girl. She is a woman'. This girl is 18, just. She has just won a Rhodes scholarship. In itself, this news should give us a moment of admiring surprise when you consider that most people at 18 are just going up to college and that she's already finished her four undergraduate years at Johns Hopkins University.

She is pretty, neat and graceful, black hair, a wide face, large, brown, saucer eyes, Chinese or Korean, anyway definitely oriental, you might say. And you'd be right. Her father and mother were visiting Japanese professors here 20 years ago and they stayed. Father's a professor of physics at a Maryland state university so of course the girl is a first-generation American, Nina Teresa Morishige.

Her father says that she was so alarmingly bright at the age of four that they took her off to an IQ recorder, measurer or whatever they call them, and she registered 171. The man said, 'She's a genius'. I digress briefly at this point but not, I hope, irrelevantly. I feel I must mention and recommend a book and an author that I'll bet have been out of print for 40 or 50 years.

The author's name is J. D. Beresford and the book is called, 'The Hampdenshire Wonder'. I haven't read it since I was a boy but, dredging up some waterlogged memories, what I'm delighted to recall is that Hampdenshire was a fictional English county, that it's about a father and his toddler of a son, that the father was something of a national hero being a cricketer, a bowler who struck terror into the visiting Australians. He was also something of a clod – in the head, that is.

He had this little six-year-old son and neglected to send him to school which became so much of a village scandal that the father, with his ignorant progeny in tow, was hauled up before the county school board, presided over by some rural grandee, the lord lieutenant of the county, no doubt. The little boy, by the way, had never been known to speak so he was not only dumb in the head, but the tongue also.

Well, the father receives a frightful dressing down, I think they would have called it, from the lord lieutenant who plucks his bristling moustache and revolves his bloodshot eyeballs and says, 'Your neglect amounts almost to a criminal act. Don't you understand that your son doesn't even know that two and two make four?' At that moment, the toddler opens his mouth for the first time and he says, 'Excuse me, sir but that is a proposition which is by no means proved. Pythagoras held...' – collapse of the school board.

The boy's enthusiastically invited to come every day and stew himself in the lord lieutenant's considerable library. He does so. He's so small that there's no chair that can accommodate his chin, let alone his elbows, on the library table, so he has 23 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica piled up, climbs on top of them and starts reading the 24th. He begins at A and goes through Z. I don't recall, however, that he also turned into a wizard of a medium off-break bowler, which brings us back to Nina Morishige, 18, of Baltimore, Maryland, graduate of Johns Hopkins, about to take up a Rhodes scholarship.

Needless to say, she's the youngest woman ever to win one. To be precise, she graduates in May with both a bachelor's and a master's degree with a one hundred per cent average mark in – what do you think? – in a quintessential form of algebra known as real analysis, also in differential topology which is geometry somewhere off in the stratosphere, and electromagnetic theory. So she's a mathematics whiz, but not only that. Like Wolfgang A. Mozart, little Wolfie, she climbed on to a stool at the age of five and started playing the piano. At 11, when she skipped four years at school to be with the 15-year-olds, she took up the flute and the violin. When she was 15, she won first prize in a national keyboard audition competition and played solo piano with the Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra.

To vary the monotony, she piled up a few more concurrent honours at another university in physics, Latin and computer science. Any parents who are bursting with pride over the offspring's talent for computer science may not want to hear from Nina that computer science is, quote, 'Boring and furthermore lacks the philosophical appeal and the rigour of advanced mathematics', which you'll have gathered by now is her bag.

But a girl can't spend all her time on differential topology, physics, Latin, the piano and the flute. She was out there on the baseball diamond playing softball until her mother begged her to consider the risk of breaking a finger and so ruining her touch on the violin. So she switched to golf, where even a hacker tends not to hit the ball against his own hands. The American PGA, the Professional Golfers Association, which runs the professional tour, also encourages youngsters by holding national competitions for them. One of these is held every year for girls under 15. You guessed it. Three years in a row, when she was 11, 12 and 13, she was the American junior national champion.

In her spare time, she takes piano lessons at the famous Peabody Conservatory of Music. She plays chess and she's the classical disc jockey on the university's station. You'll be relieved to hear that she is not the national swimming champion, gives no promise of becoming a cordon bleu cook and is not the captain of the university fencing team. She's simply second on the university fencing team.

At Oxford she means to specialise in advanced mathematics and physics and go on studying piano. I should think she's a cinch to become the university golf captain and/or the next cox in the Oxford boat. She's just about the right weight.

Before she gets to Oxford, I wish she'd call on Secretary of State Haig or Lord Carrington. Maybe she can do something to stall the threat of a beautiful friendship between Moscow and Peking.

This transcript was typed from a recording of the original BBC broadcast (© BBC) and not copied from an original script. Because of the risk of mishearing, the BBC cannot vouch for its complete accuracy.

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